’Canes in the Community

Behind Bars, Writing Tutors Focus on Prose

By Deserae E. del Campo
Special to UM News

Inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution look froward to their one-on- one sessions with UM tutors.

Inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution look forward to their one-on- one  sessions with UM writing tutors.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 7, 2016)—The routine for each tutoring session is always the same for University of Miami writing coaches Ben Bogart and Kimberly McGrath. Walk through the metal detector, wait for a pat-down by the guards, affirm they carry no contraband—no cellphone, no weapon, no cash over $60—then cross the courtyard to a large room in another building and wait for their students.

Their classroom may be behind razor wire, their students dressed in prison blues, and their one-on-one guidance often interrupted by a head count, but the curriculum at Dade Correctional Institution doesn’t vary from what’s taught at the UM Writing Center 30 miles to the north: Improve your sentence structure and critical thinking skills, practice how to edit and revise your stories, manipulate your word choice, work on your prose.

“During the tutoring session, the focus is always on their writing. I don’t know their crimes or even their sentences,” said McGrath, who usually lectures in UM’s English Department but participated in summer tutoring session for Exchange for Change, Inc. “I am impressed by their stories and the topics they write about. Their efforts are amazing.”

A nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue and social change through written partnerships, Exchange for Change usually arranges anonymous writing exchanges between classrooms in prison and classrooms in high school and universities. But in October 2015 Exchange for Change began partnering with UM’s Writing Center to offer one-on-one tutoring to inmates like Allington Dottin. He deems the lessons “essential.”

“If I must list a single improvement it would be my transformation from ‘fiction reporter’ to ‘factual novelist,’” Dottin, 43, told Exchange for Change, which conveyed his remarks to UM. “I had great ideas that fell flat due to the lack of involvement, a paucity of feelings, and an absence of redeeming qualities for my characters. UM tutoring reconciled all these and more.”

Another inmate, Luis Hernandez, 34, credits the program for giving voice to the voiceless. “I am a living example of years when my voice was not heard,” he told Exchange for Change. “Now, through the tutoring and the confidence they give me, I share my voice with anyone who wants to read it. The tutors have so much insight and valuable help to give me, I don’t want to hold back from them because they give my writing more life.”

Joshua Schriftman, associate director of Exchange for Change and another lecturer in UM’s English Department, said many prisoners are working on memoirs and novels and see Bogart and McGrath as often as they can. “We also have students who are very new to the art of writing,” Schriftman said. “We try to accommodate students with all levels of experience. Our goal is to help prisoners develop writing skills and become better writers. That’s really the heart of the program.”

For now, Exchange for Change also offers creative writing courses in four correctional institutions and a juvenile facility in South Florida, but DCI is the only location where tutoring is offered. The organization hopes to expand the tutoring program to other correctional institutions and start additional programs with UM, such as a Spanish-language letter exchange workshop.

Bogart, who also taught a rhetoric course at DCI during the summer, said most of the students “pay attention to the news and write, what I like to call, the ‘State of the Union address’ where they respond to current problems. For example, many students write about the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s happening with the current election.”

McGrath is inspired by seeing firsthand how writing can empower people. “In their work, I can hear their voices in a place where their voices are normally unheard,” she said. “Prison does not have to define who you are in life, and I see how the students’ writings are redefining their lives.”

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March 3 Day of Service to Focus on Fire Safety

Research shows that people who have working smoke alarms in their homes double their chances of surviving a fire. On Thursday, March 3, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., UM faculty and staff can once again make a difference in our community by improving fire safety during the 2016 University of Miami Day of Service.

In support of the American Red Cross “25 Alive” Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, powered by the United Way, UM volunteers will help install household smoke alarms and educate residents in west Miami-Dade about fire safety.

Volunteers will meet at 8 a.m. at the football stadium at Florida International University, where they will receive a Red Cross T-shirt, training, supplies, and team assignments. Lunch will be provided during an end-of-service celebration.

Space is limited. Register online by Thursday, February 18. Please be sure to obtain your supervisor’s approval prior to registering. Confirmed volunteers will receive additional details closer to the Day of Service.

The fire safety event is hosted in partnership with the Greater Miami & The Keys Chapter of the American Red Cross and the United Way of Miami-Dade. For more information, review the frequently asked questions or email userv@miami.edu.


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Miami Hurricanes Holiday Gift Drive Now Underway

ToyDriveThe 2015 Miami Hurricanes Holiday Gift Drive is now underway with a goal of collecting 1,000 toys and gifts—double the number collected last year—for underprivileged children and senior citizens in South Florida. Faculty, staff, students, and members of the UM community are welcome to drop unwrapped toys for children and gifts for seniors in the donation carts in the Whitten University Center lower lobby and the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development at the Shalala Student Center, room 204, through Tuesday, December 8.

Coordinated by the Butler Center, the toy drive is the University’s largest and longest running holiday drive and, for the second year, is partnering with Home Instead Senior Care’s Be a Santa to a Senior program to provide gifts to area seniors. The Butler Center also collaborates with many other community organizations, including the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Just Kids Centers, Inc., the Family Resource Center, Allapattah Community Action, and UM’s Miller School of Medicine to help provide their clients and patients with an amazing holiday season.

If your department or office is interested in getting involved with the Miami Hurricanes Holiday Gift Drive and/or for more information, contact the Butler Center at leadandserve@miami.edu or 305-284-4483.


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UM Launches New Digital Tool for Improving Affordable Housing Needs


Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement, discusses the MAP mission at The Beacon Council.

By Andres Tamayo
UM News

MIAMI, Fla. (May 29, 2015) – University of Miami officials last week officially launched the Miami Affordability Project, or MAP, an interactive online tool that provides rich data about affordable housing and development.

In a meeting at The Beacon Council, more than 100 community officials, executives, and local media turned out for the event, which has been more than a year-and-a-half in the making and was spearheaded by UM’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement and the Center for Computational Science.

The MAP program is free to use and visualizes neighborhood-level housing market dynamics, and assists in developing data-driven strategies for housing and community development.

“The overall goal of our housing and community development work is to increase the availability of affordable housing and to promote balanced, people- and place-based revitalization strategies that are sensitive to the history and culture of neighborhoods,” said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement.

The project, which focuses on improving housing opportunities for residents of low- to moderate-income Miami neighborhoods, was funded through grants from JPMorgan Chase and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund.

Miami ranks first in the nation in severe cost burden, meaning that more people in Miami than in any other metropolitan area spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing.

“With the development of MAP, courtesy of Dr. Bachin and her team at the CCE, we will now be able to better measure, better manage, better provide for affordable housing because our basic assumptions will be right, not wrong,” said Michael Liu, director, Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development. “It will be based on empirical data and analysis not on myth and anecdote.”

Liu joined fellow community officials Arden Shank, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, and Barbara “Bobbie” Ibarra, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, as speakers. The launch also featured speakers from JPMorgan Chase and The Beacon Council.

The innovative project is only the second of its kind – the first was done in New York. For more information on the MAP and its capabilities, visit http://comte.ccs.miami.edu/housing/.

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Sweat Has Its Rewards: Giving Back to the Community

More than 100 faculty and staff from all campuses left their desks and labs Friday and headed to Liberty City’s Charles R. Drew K-8 Center, where they primed, painted, hammered, drilled, and sweated their way through a rewarding UM Day of Service, which was held in advance of Sunday’s Clinton Foundation Day of Action for students attending the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting on the UM campus.

“It’s great to get out of the office and contribute to the community for a good cause,’’ said Human Resources’ Jackie Henderson, who spruced up a garbage enclosure with the Office of the Controller’s Karen Bonner.

UM volunteers worked with the Miami Children’s Initiative, a non-profit organization focused on transforming Liberty City into a prosperous community. They helped community residents paint murals, trash bins, and garden borders, refurbish clothes lines, power wash residences, and build and paint shade structures.

“The response from UM employees was tremendous, and fully reflected the spirit of the U,” said Nerissa Morris, vice president of human resources. “Working with MCI and CGI U, we are making a positive difference in this community, which is part of our common purpose to transform lives through teaching, research, and service. Today we helped transform a neighborhood.”

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